Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#41  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 22, 2020 7:38 am

jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'? Make your fucking minds up! :nono:



:lol:

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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#42  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 22, 2020 7:39 am

Thommo wrote:
jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'? Make your fucking minds up! :nono:


Genes "succeed" by making the number of copies of themself increase. The same genes exist in different individual people, many copies in each of their cells and in every cell of relatives who inherited the same gene.

In most multicellular organisms the "selfish" gene (which is just a book title and not even the first choice of the author) can proliferate only by the success of gamete cells in the same individual or another individual who also has the gene.

Any reciprocity which aids one or both such individuals in reproducing thus accomodates this "selfishness". So if being seen as honest by your fellow humans helps you earn a living, and thus survive and potentially have a family it serves the "selfishness" of your genes. If being a loving parent helps your offspring to have a better chance of survival, adulthood and finding a partner then so too does this serve your "selfish" genes.

In organisms like ants most individuals are sterile, but they work for the good of the colony, which consists of closely related individuals who share most genes. So the genes succeed even where individuals fail.



Take notes Jamest - you could learn a lot from Thommo if you could put away your belligerent arrogance for a few minutes.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#43  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 22, 2020 7:41 am

jamest wrote:
Thommo wrote:
jamest wrote:The whole theory of evolution, up until humanity, is that it was driven by the selfish gene. Then, now, to account for the short term humanity has been around, even though most of us are still utterly selfish bastards, we up carts and change the theory for those precious souls WHO DO EXIST who are disgusted by selfishness.


That's just totally wrong.

It cannot be, for I am, and I cannot be the only one.



It's totally wrong as in entirely clueless.

You seem to think that only humans engage in social activity, risk themselves for others, share food, or partake in reciprocal arrangements.

You are not just wrong, you are gobsmackingly wrong and more than a hundred years behind in terms of relevant knowledge.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#44  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 22, 2020 7:42 am

jamest wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'? Make your fucking minds up! :nono:

You need to read the book before you open your yap. Your ignorance is showing.

Maybe you should read the book yourself, as your post here implies that you have no fuckin' clue.



No Jamest.

Anyone who's read the book knows who is accurately representing the contents of the book here, and it is assuredly not you.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#45  Postby Fallible » Feb 22, 2020 9:35 am

jamest wrote:
Fallible wrote:
Hermit wrote:
jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'?

Selfish genes don't construct morals. Reciprocity is smart selfishness.

jamest wrote:Make your fucking minds up! :nono:

Oh, late Friday night / early Saturday morning over your way... :drunk:


Almost. It was late Thursday night early Friday morning. Friday off maybe?

No, I work 5 days a week, including today. I told you, I'm a night owl with less motivation to contribute than previously. That's it. Some nights I can be arsed, most I can't.


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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#46  Postby zoon » Feb 22, 2020 1:48 pm

jamest wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'? Make your fucking minds up! :nono:

You need to read the book before you open your yap. Your ignorance is showing.

Maybe you should read the book yourself, as your post here implies that you have no fuckin' clue.

The first paragraph of chapter 6 in the book “The Selfish Gene” reads (my bolding):

What is the selfish gene? It is not just one single physical bit of DNA. Just as in the primeval soup, it is all replicas of a particular bit of DNA, distributed throughout the world. If we allow ourselves the licence of talking about genes as if they had conscious aims, always reassuring ourselves that we could translate our sloppy language back into respectable terms if we wanted to, we can ask the question, what is a single selfish gene trying to do? It is trying to get more numerous in the gene pool. Basically it does this by helping to program the bodies in which it finds itself to survive and tr reproduce. But now we are emphasizing that ‘it’ is a distributed agency, existing in many different individuals at once. The key point of this chapter is that a gene might be able to assist replicas of itself that are sitting in other bodies. If so, this would appear as individual altruism but it would be brought about by gene selfishness.

The bolded sentences are not just the key point of the chapter, they are the key point of the book, although they are tucked away in the middle. In jamest’s defence, it is fair to say that Dawkins spends much of the first and last chapters in “The Selfish Gene” emphasising that kin altruism on its own fails miserably to provide a theoretical background for human morality, which is largely about treating people according to the same principles, irrespective of family relationships. Kin altruism is genuine altruism, it’s seen in millions of species, and it’s reasonably straightforward to understand in terms of natural selection, but it is if anything worse than useless when attempting to put human moral systems into an evolutionary context. Kin altruism is helpful if we want to understand nepotism and racism, but, on its own, it implies that the kind of behaviour we normally think of as moral would be lost from the gene pool.

The older idea for explaining the evolution of altruism through natural selection, was group selection, not kin selection. This willingness to put the group first was Darwin’s approach to explaining the evolution both of colony insects like honeybees, and of human morality. Before the 1960s, most researchers into evolution agreed with Darwin, and could argue that morality arose from group selection. Hamilton’s work showed that for understanding natural selection, kin altruism is right and group selection (to the extent that it disagrees with kin altruism) is wrong, and his conclusion still stands. Unfortunately for people trying to reconcile morality and evolution, this clear superiority of kin altruism for explaining the mechanism of the evolution of altruism destroyed the earlier attempt at reconciliation. Dawkins meets this head-on in “The Selfish Gene”, he claims repeatedly that evolution by natural selection cannot explain morality, and that if we want to be moral, we must rise above our evolved nature (which then raises the questions, how and why?)

Evolution by natural selection is cleverer than Dawkins, writing in the 1970s, supposed. The unique human capacity for extensive cooperation through reciprocity with non-relatives is not in itself altruistic, it depends on an intelligent calculation of costs and benefits, and there’s every reason to think it evolved through natural selection; the better co-operators got more net benefits and passed on more of their genes. For reciprocity to work repeatedly and in detail, it’s necessary for at least one of the participants to be able to calculate costs and benefits not just for themselves, but for the other person as well; this is where Theory of Mind is essential for the human capacity to cooperate with non-relatives. (Understanding human brains as mechanisms is a non-starter for human-sized brains, our evolved Theory of Mind uses the short cut of assuming, generally correctly, that another person’s brain is like mine.) Once Theory of Mind had evolved, more intelligence would have enabled the multiple benefits of better cooperation, it’s likely that this is at least part of the reason why human brains became larger.

Morality appears to be, and probably is, an evolved mechanism (or collection of mechanisms) for maintaining a high level of cooperation among individuals who are not automatically altruistic towards each other. Cooperation between non-relatives is always at risk from cheating, everyone would prefer to gain the benefits from others being altruistic, while not themselves suffering the costs. Evolved morality, supplemented by thought-through legal systems, encourages group action to bring individual cheats into line; it’s this constant background threat which keeps most of us, most of the time, close enough to the strait and narrow path of virtue for a high level of cooperation to continue. This high level of cooperation can include principles which apply to everyone equally, such as not harming anyone without good reason.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#47  Postby SafeAsMilk » Feb 22, 2020 2:16 pm

jamest wrote:Don't mention Thommo again, please.

I didn't, I mentioned Thommo's post. Read it and get yourself a clue, please.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#48  Postby Thommo » Feb 22, 2020 2:48 pm

SafeAsMilk wrote:
jamest wrote:Don't mention Thommo again, please.

I didn't, I mentioned Thommo's post. Read it and get yourself a clue, please.


Quite. And if even that is too much to bear (noting he replied to a different post I had written), there's always Zoon's post #33 which has nothing to do with the bogeyman.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#49  Postby felltoearth » Feb 22, 2020 5:47 pm

jamest wrote:
felltoearth wrote:
jamest wrote:How do you hard-wire 'reciprocity' into the 'selfish gene'? Make your fucking minds up! :nono:

You need to read the book before you open your yap. Your ignorance is showing.

Maybe you should read the book yourself, as your post here implies that you have no fuckin' clue.

Are you saying you read the book?
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#50  Postby Macdoc » Feb 22, 2020 7:33 pm

double post
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#51  Postby Macdoc » Feb 22, 2020 7:44 pm

The unique human capacity for extensive cooperation through reciprocity with non-relatives i
unique??

hardly unique...


there are lots of examples even cross species - helping others appears hardwired into humans - even preverbal toddlers with strangers.

Interesting and sad cases are FAS kids who grow up without the "this is mine....that is yours" sense that emerges in most humans as they develop.

Mores arise from society and change over time but some aspects of moral behaviour appear hardwired in most but glaringly lacking in a few...psychopaths regrettably whose behavior and lack of empathy often shows up very early with exceptional cruelty to animals.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#52  Postby zoon » Feb 22, 2020 11:13 pm

Macdoc wrote:
The unique human capacity for extensive cooperation through reciprocity with non-relatives i
unique??

hardly unique...


there are lots of examples even cross species -
…….

Yes, I did wonder whether I should have qualified my statement with some discussion along the lines of how extensive is “extensive”? and how unrelated is “unrelated”?

In particular, as you say, there are mutualisms between individuals of different species, where both receive a net benefit. The unrelatedness in these cases is far greater than the unrelatedness of two humans, or two flamingos; the individuals in a mutualism are of different species with different ways of life and different requirements. Because the requirements and capabilities are different, reciprocal helping can evolve where each compensates for the other's weaknesses, for example many plants which cannot move provide nectar for insects which need food and can transport the plants' pollen. Mutualisms are common and some have been spectacularly successful; quoting from the linked Wikipedia article:
Mutualism plays a key part in ecology. For example, mutualistic interactions are vital for terrestrial ecosystem function as more than 48% of land plants rely on mycorrhizal relationships with fungi to provide them with inorganic compounds and trace elements. As another example, the estimate of tropical forest trees with seed dispersal mutualisms with animals ranges from 70–90%. In addition, mutualism is thought to have driven the evolution of much of the biological diversity we see, such as flower forms (important for pollination mutualisms) and co-evolution between groups of species.[2] However, mutualism has historically received less attention than other interactions such as predation and parasitism.


The Wikipedia article comments that the word “cooperation” when used by biologists tends to refer only to cooperation between individuals of the same species, while the word “mutualism” is used when the mutually beneficial interaction is between different species. I’m not sure how strictly that distinction is kept, since “cooperation” is a common English word.

Cooperation between unrelated individuals of the same species is less simple than a mutualism between different species, because the individuals are more similar and are competing for the same resources. Human cooperation is unique in that it is both extensive, and is also between unrelated (as well as related) members of the same species. The first sentence of a 2010 article “How is human cooperation different?” (here) is:
Although cooperation is a widespread phenomenon in nature, human cooperation exceeds that of all other species with regard to the scale and range of cooperative activities.
That article suggests that the range of human methods of detecting and punishing cheaters is a crucial difference between humans and non-human animals, this is perhaps relevant to morality?

Flamingoes don’t, as far as I know, show much cooperative behaviour apart from the creches? They are not remotely as cooperative as humans. It’s not even clear what the benefit may be to the “guardian” adults which stay near the groups of chicks, so it’s not an obvious example of reciprocity. There’s a brief discussion of creches in birds here, ostriches apparently compete for the opportunity to look after the eggs and chicks of other ostriches, and this may be merely because they keep their own eggs and chicks at the centre of the group, where they are safer than if they were on their own. Quoting the entire piece:
The fledglings of some bird species such as Greater Flamingos, Royal and Sandwich Terns, eiders, ostriches, and a number of penguins separate from their parents and form a group, or "creche." Whether parents continue to feed their own chicks, or the chicks feed themselves, supervision of the creche (when it occurs) is usually delegated to a small number of guardians. The guardians, of course, are related to only a small number of the young in the group. It is curious that "altruistic" guarding of unrelated young, presumably a dangerous, tiring responsibility, has evolved. Upon closer scrutiny, however, the behavior is not as altruistic as it appears.

Chick-creching generally occurs among birds that breed in large, loose colonies and whose eggs all hatch at about the same time. The day-care system permits a fledgling to lose itself in a crowd and reduce its risk of predation (dilution principle). In the case of young remaining dependent on their parents for food, creching frees the adults to spend more time foraging. Evolutionary theory suggests that creching is likely to develop when the young reared in a gang have a better chance of surviving than those reared alone, so that the birds practicing creche formation contribute more of their genes to the next generation than those that do not form creches.

It is not so easy, however, to predict which adults will adopt guarding behavior. In some species, this role is taken by nonbreeding adults (occasionally "aunts," or adults whose broods were lost, etc.), but in others, such as African ostriches, dominant pairs compete for the opportunity to gather the young of others to their group. Such herding of young is reminiscent of an African catfish that gathers the offspring of cichlid fishes into a school of its own young. The little cichlids are kept to the outside, where they (rather than the young of the catfish) are the first to be discovered by predators. Data are needed on relative position and mortality of adopted offspring in relation to the chicks most closely related to the adults guarding the creche to determine whether such supervision is truly altruistic.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#53  Postby Macdoc » Feb 23, 2020 2:40 am

That article suggests that the range of human methods of detecting and punishing cheaters is a crucial difference between humans and non-human animals, this is perhaps relevant to morality?


Bit of trying for "in dog's image"? ;)

Nah ...even fish detect cheaters.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleaner_fish

and don't get me started on corvid duplicity or cooperation. :coffee:
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#54  Postby archibald » Feb 23, 2020 4:06 pm

zoon wrote:Morality’s an evolved feature of our species, all functioning human societies have a working moral system, and non-human animals only have precursors. Even pre-verbal human babies, unlike any non-human animal, will dislike a puppet which has harmed another puppet for no good reason (e.g. a 2007 article by Paul Bloom and others: “Social evaluation by preverbal infants” here. By contrast, a similar 2018 experiment here, with a self-explanatory title, showed that “Bonobos Prefer Individuals that Hinder Others over Those that Help”).


Yes, I especially like the studies done on human infants, and on other animals. One human infant study that stuck out for me, which you may know of, was one which suggested that human infants (as young as 9 months) preferred (75% preference) 'punishing' puppets to 'helping' puppets when either (punishing or helping) was done to another puppet that was 'not like me'. This suggests that negative human moral judgements are innately biased against 'others not like me'. By 14 months it was a 98% preference.

Which is a bit chilling:

Not like me = bad: Infants prefer those who harm dissimilar others
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4374623/

----------------------------------------------------------

More generally, I agree with nearly everything you say, but I have been thinking.

It was put to me that there is a fundamental 'rule' which is independent of human brains and applies to all living things, and it is either the basis for morality or, in some ways (I might be tempted to argue) it is morality itself.

The rule is, "existence = good".

It would explain, for example why certain things, for all living things, are 'done instead of other things', preferred or not preferred, and why actions have “to-be-doneness” or "not-to-be-doneness’ ‘built into them’, that either have 'magnetic attraction' or 'repulsion' (and often disgust, which has been shown, including by neuroscience, to be closely related to many negative moral judgements, and also shown to be related to disease avoidance). In our particular case, these could be dispositions we are born with and/or things that could be affected by environment and learning, or a mixture of both.

None of which need to be consciously-experienced by an organism, of course, let alone deliberated over as we do. In some ways, all the deliberation and reasoning may be just window dressing (or in some cases post-hoc rationalisation, given that there is evidence that we make instinctive moral decisions in a fifth of a second and possibly even non-consciously, that first impressions last, and that as per the title of an article I read recently, 'we don't change our minds as often as we think we do').

The concept of entities having very basic 'interests' (starting with 'continued existence' as priority number 1) that might affect, at the most basic level, genes, then at a 'me' level, then at a 'those I am most like (genetically or in terms of relationships)' level, then in the end at a 'my species' level, would explain certain anomalies in moral judgements such as approving of harmful acts done to 'those not like me' and the biases that lead us to judge ourselves more moral than others even if we do the same things as them.

You can see from the above that I am extending morality beyond humans, not only a short distance (because I believe there are behaviours in some other animals which imo deserve to be called more than mere precursors to morality) but ultimately a very long distance, because I am suggesting that we can and/or should decouple morality from propositional attitudes about it.

I might even go so far as to say either that morality (for living things) is biological, or at least that biology is the basis for morality.

So now, at least as far as living things go, I'm saying that morality is consequentialist, pragmatic, relative and biological. :)

I'm temporarily holding off saying it applies to non-living things.....but not that far off.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#55  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 23, 2020 4:19 pm

Yes, I especially like the studies done on human infants, and on other animals. One human infant study that stuck out for me, which you may know of, was one which suggested that human infants (as young as 9 months) preferred (75% preference) 'punishing' puppets to 'helping' puppets when either (punishing or helping) was done to another puppet that was 'not like me'. This suggests that negative human moral judgements are innately biased against 'others not like me'. Which is a bit chilling:


Basically, it's Punch and Judy.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#56  Postby archibald » Feb 23, 2020 4:30 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
Yes, I especially like the studies done on human infants, and on other animals. One human infant study that stuck out for me, which you may know of, was one which suggested that human infants (as young as 9 months) preferred (75% preference) 'punishing' puppets to 'helping' puppets when either (punishing or helping) was done to another puppet that was 'not like me'. This suggests that negative human moral judgements are innately biased against 'others not like me'. Which is a bit chilling:


Basically, it's Punch and Judy.


I guess it is. And although I hate to invoke Godwin's Law, one wonders if the Nazis ever invented a version of the show with a Jewish puppet-character. I would not be surprised.

That's what's so chilling about the infant behaviour, I guess.

But there's a caveat. Sometimes, and probably in the case of the persecution of Jews (or many persecuted groups) there are false beliefs, possibly encouraged by lies and propaganda, which go on to inform the moral attitudes towards them.

This, however, is not always or necessarily the case. It would not have been the case for the infants in that study, for example. The beliefs in that case were accurate (it was established beforehand that the 'not like me' puppet had different food tastes to the infant). Nor is it the case when rules of behaviour are applied differently to 'outsiders' such as 'those whose territory we want to take over' (eg chimps) or 'those who are actually, really, competing with us for resources' (many species), or indeed those we kill to eat.

(Tangentially, it is also worth noting that even one of the most widely-agreed human moral 'facts', that it is wrong to kill for fun, does not extend to situations where 'not like me' is another species. see: gun sports).

So there is often a 'correct', accurate, true reason, in terms of the basic moral rule (existence = good) for the 'moral othering' that seems to turn up innately in infant humans, and possibly other species, the world often being a competitive place in which the rule applies. And for a social species, being 'like me' probably has advantages, in terms of likely reciprocities.

So, false beliefs, lies and propaganda are not strictly necessary for having different moral standards for 'us' and 'them', though they may play a role in some cases.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#57  Postby tuco » Feb 24, 2020 2:50 am

Well, chilling. From the abstract:


Adults tend to like individuals who are similar to them, and a growing body of recent research suggests that even infants and young children prefer individuals who share their attributes or personal tastes over those who do not.


That adults tend to like individuals who are similar to them is established and I would say normal, because how else? What these studies indicate is that the so-called human nature is, on average, certain way.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#58  Postby felltoearth » Feb 24, 2020 2:00 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
Yes, I especially like the studies done on human infants, and on other animals. One human infant study that stuck out for me, which you may know of, was one which suggested that human infants (as young as 9 months) preferred (75% preference) 'punishing' puppets to 'helping' puppets when either (punishing or helping) was done to another puppet that was 'not like me'. This suggests that negative human moral judgements are innately biased against 'others not like me'. Which is a bit chilling:


Basically, it's Punch and Judy.

Or to extend the logic: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#59  Postby zoon » Feb 24, 2020 7:59 pm

Macdoc wrote:
That article suggests that the range of human methods of detecting and punishing cheaters is a crucial difference between humans and non-human animals, this is perhaps relevant to morality?


Bit of trying for "in dog's image"? ;)

Nah ...even fish detect cheaters.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleaner_fish

and don't get me started on corvid duplicity or cooperation. :coffee:

Certainly, as you say, cooperation, cheating and cheater detection are all found in non-human animals, I’m not trying to suggest we’re a separate creation, only that there was probably some sort of runaway feedback loop with increased cooperation and intelligence leading to our outsize brains and intense sociality. It’s the range and extent of intraspecific human cooperation between non-relatives which sets us apart. Corvids are impressively intelligent for their size, and they do occasionally cooperate with non-relatives in the wild (when mobbing, for example), but to nothing like the same extent as humans. Almost everything we do or even think is shaped by what we’ve learnt from other people.
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Re: Morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative.

#60  Postby zoon » Feb 24, 2020 8:05 pm

archibald wrote:
zoon wrote:Morality’s an evolved feature of our species, all functioning human societies have a working moral system, and non-human animals only have precursors. Even pre-verbal human babies, unlike any non-human animal, will dislike a puppet which has harmed another puppet for no good reason (e.g. a 2007 article by Paul Bloom and others: “Social evaluation by preverbal infants” here. By contrast, a similar 2018 experiment here, with a self-explanatory title, showed that “Bonobos Prefer Individuals that Hinder Others over Those that Help”).


Yes, I especially like the studies done on human infants, and on other animals. One human infant study that stuck out for me, which you may know of, was one which suggested that human infants (as young as 9 months) preferred (75% preference) 'punishing' puppets to 'helping' puppets when either (punishing or helping) was done to another puppet that was 'not like me'. This suggests that negative human moral judgements are innately biased against 'others not like me'. By 14 months it was a 98% preference.

Which is a bit chilling:

Not like me = bad: Infants prefer those who harm dissimilar others
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4374623/

----------------------------------------------------------

More generally, I agree with nearly everything you say, but I have been thinking.

It was put to me that there is a fundamental 'rule' which is independent of human brains and applies to all living things, and it is either the basis for morality or, in some ways (I might be tempted to argue) it is morality itself.

The rule is, "existence = good".

It would explain, for example why certain things, for all living things, are 'done instead of other things', preferred or not preferred, and why actions have “to-be-doneness” or "not-to-be-doneness’ ‘built into them’, that either have 'magnetic attraction' or 'repulsion' (and often disgust, which has been shown, including by neuroscience, to be closely related to many negative moral judgements, and also shown to be related to disease avoidance). In our particular case, these could be dispositions we are born with and/or things that could be affected by environment and learning, or a mixture of both.

None of which need to be consciously-experienced by an organism, of course, let alone deliberated over as we do. In some ways, all the deliberation and reasoning may be just window dressing (or in some cases post-hoc rationalisation, given that there is evidence that we make instinctive moral decisions in a fifth of a second and possibly even non-consciously, that first impressions last, and that as per the title of an article I read recently, 'we don't change our minds as often as we think we do').

The concept of entities having very basic 'interests' (starting with 'continued existence' as priority number 1) that might affect, at the most basic level, genes, then at a 'me' level, then at a 'those I am most like (genetically or in terms of relationships)' level, then in the end at a 'my species' level, would explain certain anomalies in moral judgements such as approving of harmful acts done to 'those not like me' and the biases that lead us to judge ourselves more moral than others even if we do the same things as them.

You can see from the above that I am extending morality beyond humans, not only a short distance (because I believe there are behaviours in some other animals which imo deserve to be called more than mere precursors to morality) but ultimately a very long distance, because I am suggesting that we can and/or should decouple morality from propositional attitudes about it.

I might even go so far as to say either that morality (for living things) is biological, or at least that biology is the basis for morality.

So now, at least as far as living things go, I'm saying that morality is consequentialist, pragmatic, relative and biological. :)

I'm temporarily holding off saying it applies to non-living things.....but not that far off.

I hadn’t come across that article about infants preferring those who hindered, when the targets didn’t share the infants’ choice between graham crackers or green beans. Yes, fascinating and chilling.

I definitely agree with you that morality is much more consequentialist, pragmatic and relative than it often feels, I’m not so sure that I agree with all your reasoning above.

I would agree with you that the rule “existence = good” is basic to our moral thinking; if we consider that something is to be thought about in moral terms then we are thinking of it as sentient, and we do generally assume that for it (whether “it” is a human or other non-human living thing) existence is a good. I have 2 major caveats:

1) The rule “existence = good” is not in itself a moral rule when it’s being used to describe the behaviour of living things. An ichneumon wasp may be thought of as “wanting” to exist and procreate, but it doesn’t follow that the wasp is behaving morally (or immorally) when it lays its eggs in a living caterpillar. It also doesn’t follow that we ought (or that we ought not) to help it.

2) The rule “existence = good” has no place whatsoever in fundamental science, because it’s teleological, the continued existence of a living thing is being thought of as a goal. Before the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century, virtually everyone assumed that goals and intentions were fundamental to the way the universe worked; this is religious thinking, with gods or spirits or at least spirit-like principles such as karma or the Tao in charge. The working assumption of modern science is that everything, including every detail of the behaviour of living things including ourselves, can be described by mathematical laws with no goal-directedness involved. If we understood ourselves as the mechanisms we almost certainly are, then everything we think and do, including our intentions and our moral behaviour, could be re-described in terms of the mathematical laws of physics and chemistry.

Crucially, we do not, as yet, understand ourselves as mechanisms, because brains, so far, are much too complicated. When we are dealing with other people, we make no attempt to predict what they will do by applying modern science to brains. Instead, we still depend on our evolved social thinking, which uses the excellent short cut of assuming that another person is “like me”. Our thinking about other people is often teleological: if I want to make a good guess at what someone is likely to do, it’s often a good idea to start by guessing what they want, what their goal is, and then to guess from there how they are likely to set about it. Our evolved social thinking is generally the best way of predicting non-human animals as well as other people, since modern science, using the laws of physics, is so far no better at predicting even the simplest of animal brains than it is at predicting a human brain. When we think about other living things, we may start with the working assumption that they want to go on existing, and then use that assumption to help guess what they will do. In that way, the rule “existence = good” often makes sense as a starting point when we think about living things.

I’m afraid I’m disagreeing with you in that I don’t think it’s possible to use first principles to make the jump from “people and animals want to go on living” to “we should help other people and animals to go on living”. I do think that our evolved morality is crucial to the way we cooperate, that in modern societies where there is a mixture of ethnic identities active policies against racism are useful, and also that where we have plenty of food and many pets, and the wild animals are endangered by our activities, there is much to be said for promoting the welfare of non-human animals. I am here being consequentialist, pragmatic and relativist. I don’t think I can argue that the racism which was common (and commonly regarded as a moral obligation) throughout most of history was essentially immoral, but I do think I can say that in the modern world, with nuclear weapons and huge competition for resources, racism is dangerous because it discourages the cooperation which is our best hope of survival: I am happy to see anti-racism promoted and racism becoming socially unacceptable. Social biases in infants, as with biases towards eating sugar versus vegetables, can be encouraged or discouraged by adults?

An evolved human characteristic is that each society typically sets up a system of rules for cooperation, and the basic tenets of these moral systems tend to be seen by the participants as fundamentally right and true, not merely convenient fictions like the rules of games. I think this tension remains even after the calculating, unemotional part of our brains understands that moral rules can change with circumstances, i.e. as you say in the thread title, morality is consequentialist, pragmatic and relative. The flexibility of moral rules between societies helps humans to be very adaptable, but it’s the emotional assumption that a moral rule is simply right, which colours almost all of our social interactions? Emotional reactions are much faster than those which are thought through, and an ordinary conversation needs fast thinking?

This post is wandering off on various tangents to your post which it’s supposedly answering, I hope some of it’s vaguely relevant.
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